Thursday, October 16, 2014

Apology from a Nomad Child [poem]

Apology from a Nomad Child
Tall grass, green.
Me and you, Nathan.
Before-breasts shirtless, fearless,
tearless as baby shampoo.
Our mamas bring us popsicles
‘cause we don’t care for poppin’
wheelies and we didn’t carve
that tree. We don’t know
we’re half-naked, we’re free yet
to pluck caterpillars from their sacks,
trade tricycles and action figures.
We haven’t kissed,
we haven’t promised anything
more than to be here tomorrow,
under this tree, meet in your yard.
We have big plans for picnics.
We’re happier out here
than at home. Nathan, I’ll move
away some day soon. I’ll leave
with my mama ‘cause she’s
my best friend before you.


As a thank you for doing the 30/30 Project, Tupelo Press offered me a free book of my choice from their incredibly impressive catalog.  I chose Butch Geography by Stacey Waite, because I’ve been wanting to get my hands on it for a while now.  So as I write this month, I’ve been reading her amazing poems about gender and love and family. 

I was walking through some tall, rain-soaked grass this morning, cutting behind the dumpsters to get to asphalt and take a morning walk.  The grass made me think of a picture I have:

I don't know who's bicycle that was. 
That’s me and another kid who lived in the same apartment complex, shirtless, with popsicles, laying on top of some boxes we had opened up for the purpose of laying down on them instead of the scratchy, itch-provoking grass.  I’m wearing some over-sized white shorts, not, as it looks, a diaper. 

So, under Stacey Waite’s powerful and intoxicating (and welcome) influence, I started to write a poem about being a girl and shirtless, about how girls only have so many years that they can enjoy this level of equality and freedom alongside their male peers. 

But then I found myself getting all theoretical and preachy, like I’m wont to do, and like I don’t want to do.  Stacey Waite manages to write these topics (gender, sex, male, female, equality, difference, etc.) in a way that’s personal and real and powerful and not preachy at all, but leaves you feeling stricken and moved and edified the same way a passionate, correct sermon or testimony or witness does. 

I wasn’t managing to do that with the poem I was trying to write.  So I went another direction with it.

Again, relief and flow came when I wrote myself, my own experience.

(Not that I don’t have things to say about gender, and shirtlessness and equality, but if someone’s lived it closer, and wrote it better, leave it to them to do it/to have done it.  I once wrote specifically on one of my rough drafts: Sylvia Plath already wrote this.)

(Not that you can’t write about things that’ve already been written about, but if you’re going to do it, make sure you have something fresh and/or equal and/or unique to add.  Don’t be derivative.  Or redundant.  Or a shadow.  Try not to.  It’s not like you can read everything.  And it’s not like you can always be the best most unique perfect.)

(Never plagiarize, at the very least.)

I don’t remember the name of the kid in the photo.  I don’t remember a lot of the kids’ names from my childhood, because there were a lot, because my mama and I moved around a lot within the confines of upstate South Carolina as she left and returned, left and returned to a relationship with my father.  We lived in these places: Lyman, Greenville, Anderson, Pendleton.  We went back and forth among those, like the little silver balls in pinball machines. 

You definitely have the advantage on skates versus bare feet.
I had trouble making friends, not only because I was awkward and weird of my own accord, but also because my life was so unstable – I don’t think I ever had a sense of permanence, and I think that stability and permanence are needed in order to feel safe investing in and committing to friendships, to places, to your home. 

It’s not that I didn’t want friends.  I did.  Desperately.  It’s not that I didn’t connect to people.  I did.  But always with a fear behind it, again, both because of my own awkwardness, and because of the awkwardness – and shame, it’s not like we moved around because we were heroes or vampires with secret, superior identities to hide – of my home situation. 

I was a shy kid, a lonely kid, but also friendly and lively and imaginative on the inside.  

I wonder if anyone missed me when I left?  Or if they wondered why and where I’d gone? 

In any case, “Nathan” is not a real friend from my childhood, but a composite of all those people, homes, places I left behind every time my mother and I packed bags and snuck out in the middle of the night. 

Finally, I acknowledge that the poem is titled to indicate that an apology will take place, yet the poem offers no such apology, instead more of an iron-clad excuse at the end. 

This poem was written on October 16, 2014 as part of Tupelo Press's 30/30 Project.

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